Lawrence Wasden 2019


Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma this week, accusing the company of engaging in “one of the deadliest marketing campaigns in history.”

The lawsuit, filed in Idaho’s Fourth Judicial District Court, reflects similar cases filed by nearly every other state, as well as hundreds of cities and counties across the country.

It alleges that Purdue’s “deceptive” marketing practices encouraged doctors to prescribe OxyContin, which in turn contributed to a rise in opioid addictions and overdose deaths.

These alleged actions, the state maintains, violated Idaho’s Consumer Protection Act and created a public nuisance.

The lawsuit names eight members of the Sackler family — who control the privately held company — as co-defendants. It seeks a jury trial and asks the court to award attorney fees, civil penalties “to the maximum extent authorized by law,” as well as unspecified restitution, compensatory damages and interest payments.

The lawsuit also asks that the company give up all profits and revenues it gained as a result of its alleged illegal conduct, and that it “compensate the state for all costs it has incurred or will incur in abating the public nuisance.”

Since 1999, more than 400,000 people in the United States have died from opioid overdoses, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Purdue Pharma has become a poster child of sorts for jurisdictions seeking to hold drug manufacturers and distributors responsible for the crisis.

Given that the per-capita opioid death rate in Idaho has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, “this crisis and its consequences could and should have been avoided,” the lawsuit says.

Prior to about 1995, opioid painkillers were typically only prescribed for cancer patients facing intractable pain. They weren’t used for other forms of chronic pain, largely because of concerns about the risks of addiction as well as a lack of studies showing they were effective for the long term.

Beginning in the late 1990s, however, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family “set out to change that narrative by devising and executing what became one of the deadliest marketing campaigns in history,” the lawsuit says.

“For two decades,” the lawsuit says, “Purdue and the Sackler family campaigned for sweeping changes in the public’s and medical community’s perception of opioids, by both downplaying the risks associated with opioid use and aggressively encouraging much broader use of the drugs than medically necessary or appropriate.”

This marketing campaign allegedly “misled and deceived doctors into prescribing more of Purdue’s opioids, in increasingly dangerous doses and for longer periods of time, while persuading doctors and patients alike to forego safer alternatives.”

Even when Purdue and the Sackler family “knew, or should have known, that a staggering number of people were overdosing on its drugs in Idaho,” the lawsuit says, “they continued to target doctors and patients with false information.”

Purdue Pharma has denied these allegations, saying the Idaho lawsuit, as well as those filed by other states, relies on “stunningly over-broad legal theories” that fail to link the company’s actions with the harm they describe.

This is at least the second time Idaho has sued Purdue Pharma for false or misleading advertising.

Together with 25 other states and the District of Columbia, it previously accused the company of promoting OxyContin for purposes not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The states settled that case for $19.5 million in 2007 — shortly after Purdue Pharma and three top executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of misleading health care professionals and promoting OxyContin for unapproved uses. The company and its executives paid more than $634 million in fines and penalties to resolve that case.

Over the last few years, approximately 1,600 cities, counties and American Indian tribes — including the Nez Perce Tribe — have sued Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers and distributors for actions related to the opioid crisis.

Most states — including those that settled with the company in 2007 — have also filed new lawsuits. California, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia sued Purdue Pharma this week. Michigan and Nebraska are now the only two states that haven’t sued the company.

This article first published in the Lewiston Tribune.

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